Offseason In Review: Cleveland Cavaliers

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.




  • Acquired Boston’s 2015 second-round pick (top-55 protected) and the rights to Ilkan Karaman and Edin Bavcic in a three-team trade with the Celtics and Nets in exchange for Jarrett Jack, Sergey Karasev, Tyler Zeller and Cleveland’s 2016 first-round pick (top-10 protected).
  • Acquired the Clippers’ 2016 second-round pick (top-55 protected) from the Pelicans in exchange for Alonzo Gee.
  • Acquired Brendan Haywood and the rights to Dwight Powell from the Hornets in exchange for Scotty Hopson and cash.
  • Acquired John Lucas IIIMalcolm Thomas and Erik Murphy from the Jazz in exchange for Carrick Felix, Cleveland’s 2015 second-round pick, and $1.3MM cash.
  • Acquired Kevin Love in a three-team trade with the Timberwolves and Sixers in exchange for Andrew WigginsAnthony Bennett and Miami’s 2015 first-round pick (top-10 protected).
  • Acquired Keith Bogans, Sacramento’s 2015 second-round pick (top-55 protected) and Sacramento’s 2017 second-round pick (top-55 protected) from the Celtics in exchange for Dwight PowellErik MurphyMalcolm ThomasJohn Lucas III, Cleveland’s 2016 second-round pick and Cleveland’s 2017 second-round pick.
  • Acquired Philadelphia’s 2015 second-round pick (if it falls from pick No. 51 through No. 55, as long as the Sixers don’t have to send it to the Celtics to satisfy an obligation from previous trades) from the Sixers in exchange for Keith Bogans and Cleveland’s 2018 second-round pick.

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

  • Andrew Wiggins (Round 1, 1st overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract. Subsequently traded.
  • Joe Harris (Round 2, 33rd overall). Signed via cap room for three years, $2.710MM. Third year is non-guaranteed.
  • Dwight Powell (Round 2, 45th overall). Signed via minimum-salary exception for two years. Subsequently traded.

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

Cleveland has endured countless tough breaks over the years, but ever since the Cavs lucked out and grabbed the No. 1 overall pick in the lottery this year, fortune has shined on northeast Ohio. LeBron James reversed course from four years ago and returned home from Miami, and three of his former Heat teammates joined him in flocking to Cleveland. The four-time MVP’s magnetism was most impactful in swaying Kevin Love, the best player available on the trade market, to accept a deal that sent him to Cleveland, a prospect Love reportedly otherwise wouldn’t have considered. We may never know if LeBron would still have chosen to sign with the Cavs if they hadn’t emerged from the lottery with the top pick, but it was clear that possessing Andrew Wiggins, whom the Cavs took with that No. 1 overall selection, was crucial to the Love trade.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Cleveland CavaliersThe presence of Wiggins allowed GM David Griffin to beat out a field that included nearly half the league in a heated derby to win over Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, who held out on the Cavs until they were willing to surrender the former Kansas swingman. It was an early test of mettle for Griffin, who took over the GM duties on an interim basis shortly before the trade deadline last season and saw the team remove the interim tag a few months later. Regardless of whether James intentionally left Wiggins’ name out when he discussed his teammates in the public letter announcing his return, any trade involving a first overall pick is fraught with historical consequences. That’s doubly so when a team trades not one but two former No. 1 picks, as was the case with Anthony Bennett heading to Minnesota along with Wiggins. Bennett certainly didn’t live up to having been the top pick as a rookie, but he nonetheless has plenty of potential, and the addition of a future draft choice in the deal made it clear that priorities have shifted in Cleveland. The Cavs aren’t going to waste precious years of LeBron’s prime slowly building toward a championship. They want to make it happen this year.

Still, it’s not as if Griffin cleaned out all of his team’s young talent. The Cavs have taken five players within the top four picks in the last four drafts, and three of them remain. None is as prominent as Kyrie Irving, who quickly shushed rumors that he was looking to escape Cleveland, signing a five-year max extension that makes him the team’s Designated Player. Irving didn’t receive all of what he might have wanted in the extension, since he agreed to take approximately 27.5% of the salary cap as a starting salary, rather than the roughly 30% to which he’d be entitled if he triggers the Derrick Rose Rule this year. There’s a decent chance he’ll do so, since the Rose Rule would kick in for him if he repeats his selection as an All-Star starter from a year ago. Those extra millions of dollars will matter in seasons to come as Cleveland strains to carry three maximum-salary players, but in the context of this past summer, the extension was one of many hallmarks of the changing fortunes surrounding the Cavs. Irving committed to the extension before LeBron decided to return, hitching himself to a franchise that still dealt with more questions than answers. Few players would ever turn down a five-year max deal, but securing Irving’s agreement on the first day of free agency surely didn’t hurt the Cavs’ case as LeBron weighed his choices in July.

The dynamics surrounding the team’s negotiations with its other player eligible for a rookie scale extension were much different. Tristan Thompson‘s alliance with Klutch Sports, the same agency that counts LeBron as its founding client, seemingly gave the former No. 4 overall pick an inside track to a lucrative deal with the Cavs. Thompson reportedly sought salaries of around $12MM a year, and the Cavs apparently exceeded that figure in their final offer, but the sides fell short of a deal in talks that went right up until the final hour before the 11:00pm Central deadline on October 31st. That negotiations carried on nearly as long as they possibly could seems to indicate that there’s common ground that they could revisit when Thompson hits restricted free agency in the summer. Still, Cleveland’s veteran extension for Anderson Varejao creates complications.

Varejao has close ties to LeBron, too, as he’s the only member of the Cavs who remains from the four-time MVP’s first go-around in wine-and-gold, and the two have remained close friends. Still, there’s significant risk involved in committing $30MM over three years to a 32-year-old so beset by injuries that he’s averaged fewer than 37 games played over the last four seasons. The Brazilian is healthy now, and he beat out Thompson for a starting spot on opening night, but even when he’s in the lineup, there are issues. Neither Thompson, Varejao nor Love, the three most prominent big men on the Cavs roster, is a strong rim-protector. Even if one of them were, the Cavs would be hard-pressed to start all three of them, and if Cleveland re-signs Love at a sum anywhere close to market value and gives a new deal to Thompson at the terms he’s seeking, all three will be making eight figures apiece annually. That would be a steep price to pay for a talented but flawed frontcourt, even with the salary cap poised to rise dramatically.

The lack of an extension for Thompson leaves the Cavs with flexibility for the future, which Griffin has strived to maintain even as he makes a hard push to ready the team to win now. A three-for-one trade with the Jazz that he pulled off in late July turned out to provide the fuel for the acquisition and subsequent flipping of Keith Bogans, a set of maneuvers that netted the Cavs a $5,285,816 trade exception that they can use anytime between now and the end of next September. That trio of swaps, seemingly a precursor to a fourth trade, is demonstrative of Griffin’s dexterity at swinging deals. He had already put that on display over the summer when he engineered a three-team trade with the Nets and Celtics to unload Jarrett Jack‘s $6.3MM salary and open cap room necessary to sign LeBron to a max deal.

Still, for all the superstar acquisitions and intricate trades that took place for the Cavs this past offseason, the team’s boldest move came when it hired David Blatt as head coach. It’s the first time an NBA team has ever hired a head coach whose prior experience came exclusively overseas, and while Blatt left a trail of success at his many stops around the globe, there’s no league like the NBA. Lead assistant Tyronn Lue, upon whom the team bestowed a record four-year, $6.5MM deal, is entering only his sixth season as a coach following the end of his playing career in 2009. Granted, that’s a wealth of experience compared to the wave of neophytes who’ve taken over head coaching jobs in the NBA, like Derek Fisher, Steve Kerr and Jason Kidd, but Blatt and Lue are under immediate pressure to succeed. There’s little to suggest whether they will or they won’t, casting perhaps the most significant cloud of uncertainty over a team that returns a league-low five players from last season.

The victories piled up for Cleveland in the offseason, from LeBron to Love to Irving to Shawn Marion, who could have commanded higher salaries and more minutes elsewhere as he lingered into August as perhaps the most significant unsigned free agent. Miller, too, was a sought-after commodity after he showed off his health with the Grizzlies last season, when he appeared in all 82 games. There’s still a chance that Ray Allen, still undecided on retirement, will choose not only to play but to do so with a few of his old Heat teammates in Cleveland. None of it will matter unless all of the new faces in Cleveland can quickly coalesce and live up to the lofty expectations surrounding them. It took LeBron two years to win a championship in Miami, but the noise and pressure surrounding the team didn’t stop until he did. That will likely be the case in Cleveland, too.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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